Front Page Titles (by Subject) LORD SALISBURY ON MODERATION. ( From The Economist, 3rd July, 1875.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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LORD SALISBURY ON MODERATION. ( From “ The Economist, ” 3rd July, 1875.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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LORD SALISBURY ON MODERATION.
At the two public dinners addressed by Conservative orators on Wednesday, Lord Derby and Lord Salisbury made speeches of a certain interest in relation to the latest symptoms of official life. Lord Derby, who is of course always cautious, and Lord Salisbury, who is perhaps rather seldom so, both spoke with some elation of their new labour measures, as tending to take away “the stock-in-trade of agitation,” or, as Lord Salisbury put it, as removing “the combustibles which in less fortunate days some unlucky spark might set alight”. But though this is the mode in which it is probably most convenient for members of the Conservative Cabinet to speak of their proposed concessions—both as regards Friendly Societies and the Law of Conspiracy—to the demands of the working classes, there is nothing in either speech which would at all lead us to suppose that the statesman who delivered it wishes to shape Conservative policy with any special reference to the demands of working-class agitators. Indeed, Lord Salisbury, as we understand his speech, points entirely in another direction. He declares that the proper lesson of the recent Conservative triumph is the policy of party self-restraint and party moderation; that Mr. Gladstone was defeated because he chose to be too much guided by the Radical wing of his party, and that the Conservatives would court defeat if they allowed themselves to be too much guided by the Tory wing of their party. This is very different doctrine from that which Lord Salisbury used to preach two or three years ago. Then he always said that the Conservatives should not take office without a real majority, because they could not pursue a genuine Conservative policy so long as they had to conciliate Liberal support, and that whenever they gained a majority, then they ought to abide by their principles, and embody the Conservative doctrine with earnestness and fidelity. Now he repudiates anything like rigid fidelity to the principle of the party. He thinks there should be the greatest moderation in Conservatism, the greatest wish to give the constituencies no excuse for restoring their confidence to the Liberals. However, Lord Salisbury certainly does not desire to take the wind out of the Liberal sails by consulting, in the present instance, the wishes of the working-class leaders. What his speech points at is a leaning to the Moderate Liberal view, a disposition to conciliate the Whigs or Conservative Liberals, not a disposition to seek popularity with the mob. What he preaches to his Conservative friends is a certain amount of sympathy for what he calls “the mildly good-humoured, not very consistent, government of the Whigs”. He wants to see the Conservatives almost as willing to initiate reform as the old Whigs would have been, lest otherwise the appetite for liberalism should grow upon the country, and the pendulum swing back again. But Lord Salisbury, at least, is not of that party in the Cabinet which would be at all disposed to support Mr. Disraeli’s policy of bidding for the favour of those ultra-Democratic Conservatives who are distinguishable only by a very fine shade indeed from the Democratic Radicals. Lord Salisbury’s speech, as we understand it, is meant to promote a policy of conciliation to the Left-Centre, instead of to the Left. He hopes to lean on the middle party, the party which, whether it calls itself Conservative-Liberal under Lord Hartington, or Liberal-Conservative under such a leader as Sir Stafford Northcote, is not really very materially different in its elements. But there is, no doubt, a section of the Cabinet with somewhat different views. Mr. Disraeli himself, if he has enough of his old energy left, will be quite sure to flirt with the Democratic Conservatives, and to recommend taking the wind out of the Liberal sails by proposing concessions to the working class which Lord Hartington at least would be very unlikely to approve. As far as we can see, Mr. Cross probably leans to this section of the Cabinet. Unquestionably the idea of his Labour Laws Conspiracy Bill points in this direction, and even Sir Stafford Northcote, in the conduct of his Friendly Societies Bill, has shown himself not entirely indifferent to influences of the same kind. It is undoubtedly a great temptation to some of the Conservatives to show, as they showed in 1867, that they can propose measures more popular than any to which the Liberals have lent their sanction, and yet win the battle under a Tory warcry. There is a fascination in “dishing the Whigs” which, to some temperaments, is almost irresistible. To overbid your opponents, and yet find your party more numerous, though not stronger, after the operation than before, has in it that kind of charm belonging to all games of finesse. True the country party never enjoy the discovery that they have lent themselves to the success of such a game as this. But then the country party never discover what they are doing till it is done, and then, as it is too late to undo it, they very easily reconcile themselves to a degradation of their policy which brings with it an accession of popularity and power. Probably Lord Salisbury intended to be understood as repudiating this policy, when he concluded his speech by saying that the Conservative party will be content with the praise of having suited their measures to “the wants of the day, and the wishes of the people,” even though that praise does not suffer them to connect “any revolution with their name,”—for undoubtedly, in 1867, the Conservatives did connect “a revolution with their name,” and so they would do again, if they ever again made their appeal to that “residuum” on whom they then first conferred power. If Lord Salisbury means anything definite by his speech, he means to deprecate any such course. He wishes to lean on the Moderates of both sides of the House, and to reduce to a minimum the influence of the Democrats, whether Radical or Tory.
And this, no doubt, is the only legitimate course for the Conservatives to follow, because it is the only course except reaction, the effect of which they can really understand and honestly approve. And as for reaction, which they might both understand and approve, and for which some of them might feel a far more sincere enthusiasm than they can for the policy of the Left Centre, Lord Salisbury sufficiently disposes of that by showing that it would offend the country, and reconvert it, almost prematurely, to Liberalism. Putting reactionary policy, then, aside, there remains for Conservatives only the choice between embarking on the unknown sea of the ignorant Democratic Conservatism of the masses, and that of steadily supporting the moderate policy recommended by the educated caution of the soberest men of both parties. Those who lean to the former policy do so partly from the pleasurable excitement which they take in political gambling, and partly from enjoying the consciousness so rare to the Conservatives, of feeling that their cause, whether it be a retrograde cause or not, is the popular cause, and retrograde, if it be retrograde, only because the masses of the people are retrograde. But those who lean to the wiser policy know, what the others do not, the real effect of what they do. They are not trusting themselves to a sea of popular prejudice, but accepting the cautions which the culture and experience of the country have suggested to the most intelligent observers of either party. No principle is really so Conservative as the principle of looking before you leap, none so little Conservative, though we quite admit it may also be the very opposite of Liberal, as taking leaps in the dark. Popular constituencies are, as we are daily learning with clearer certainty, by no means, as a rule, anxious for real progress; but it does not in the least follow that they may not wish for something—like the utmost lenity to corruption for instance—which even the truest Conservatives would think bound up with real regress. Now we submit that Conservatism that is worth anything is infinitely more closely related with the predominant influence of sober and cultivated thought in politics, than with the possible triumphs of popular bigotries in bringing back shades of political or ecclesiastical superstitions long gone by. Lord Salisbury is quite right in supposing that a true Conservative should feel much graver dread of renewing past phases of Toryism by appealing to the ignorant prejudices of the masses, than he should of promoting gradual changes which Liberals have advocated, but for which sound reasons can be given, reasons recommending themselves to the minds of sober and considerate persons. Mr. Disraeli once spoke of a Conservative Government—in this sense—as an “organised hypocrisy”—and a great deal of his subsequent career has shown that he really despises mere safe and prudent political tentativeness, as we may call it, and would sooner commit himself to the tender mercies of popular forces of which neither he nor any other man has really fathomed the true scope. But what such a Government really is, is not organised hypocrisy, but organised experience, guiding itself by the principle of continuity so far as there is not distinct visible reason for a deviation from the course hitherto pursued; while Tory Government, in Mr. Disraeli’s sense, is organised risk and rashness. It conjures up no doubt a popular force to back the Conservative party, but it conjures up a force which it cannot control, and of which no one can really predict the results. Lord Salisbury is a great accession to the ranks of the Moderates; he has genius and resolution, and if we can but trust him to guide his followers into the well-worn tracks of the middle party, England will have much more confidence in the Conservative Government than it at present has. No doubt the attitude of Conservative Liberals is better than the attitude of Liberal Conservatives. But either the one or the other are infinitely better than those rash Tory Radicals who may have got hold of a real force, but have not the slightest notion how to ascertain the law of that force’s expansion. All we know of that problematic force is that it certainly contains in itself the seeds of incalculable mischief and prejudice, as well, no doubt, as of some inevitable reforms. But those men certainly are not true Conservatives who have more confidence in the onward march of popular ignorance than in the tentative advance of prudent and cautious culture.